Chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch just for fun, and sodium nitrite to give it chemical balance – who in 1937 would have thought such ingredients might add up to one of the most ubiquitous meat products known to the world. In 2007, the seven billionth was sold. Sure, McDonald’s has sold more burgers, but they don’t come in a can. Spam do.
Known as in some circles as a precooked luncheon meat product and in others as mystery meat, Spam has probably been the butt of more food jokes than any other product. Its pervasiveness led to the lending of its name to junk email.
World War II saw a huge increase in the use of Spam. Replacing fresh meat, it was served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and called “ham that didn’t pass its physical” or “meatloaf without basic training.” After the war, a troupe of former servicewomen, the Hormel Girls, toured the country promoting the eating of Spam as being downright patriotic. The show went on to become a radio program all about selling Spam.
Hawaiians eat the most Spam per capita in the United States. It’s even sold at Burger King and McDonald’s. Hawaii holds an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki during the last week of April.
In 1963, Spam was introduced to schools in South Florida as cheap food and was even used for art sculptures. It was so successful that Hormel Foods introduced Spam in school colors, the first being a blue and green variety that is still used today.
The North American home of Spam is Austin, Minnesota – “Spam Town USA.” It’s home to the Spam Museum, celebrating the history of the Hormel company, the origin of Spam and its place in world culture. Austin is also the location of final judging in the national Spam recipe competition. Competing recipes are collected from winning submissions at the top forty state fairs in the nation. And there’s a restaurant with a menu devoted exclusively to Spam – “Johnny’s SPAMarama Menu.”
And of course there’s Monty Python and “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!”
Born July 5, 1958, Bill Watterson: